December E-News

This year, a year where everything we thought we knew started crumbling, is also a year of re-birth. Of unique opportunity. Of leaving the old behind and starting anew.

The pandemic and its repercussions is, according to Arundhati Roy and cited by many, a portal, which we can choose to “walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.” 

It’s in this spirit that Reaching Critical Will be closing 2020 and is looking ahead into the new year. We remain hopeful that together we can create a new world based on feminist peace.

It is that time of the year where we highlight five key areas in which WILPF’s disarmament programme Reaching Critical Will and our partners have championed peace in 2020.

Please consider helping to sustain our work in 2021. There are many ways you can give: you can sign up for a one-time donation or a monthly pledge through PayPal, or you can send money orders, cheques, or wire transfers—just email us for details!

Thank you for considering us in your holiday giving this year. Happy holidays and best wishes for the year ahead!
(Photo credit: Jonas Off | Unsplash)


Advancing the nuclear ban

Amidst a cascade of bad news this year, there has been one big and bright light shining through it all. A light that will help us start the new year filled with hope and new energy: in 2020, the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) reached the 50 ratifications necessary for it to enter into force, which will happen on 22 January 2021! This is truly a historic moment for nuclear abolition, achieved only by the relentless efforts of generations of activists and diplomats around the world. 

WILPF, as a steering group member of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), has been instrumental in advocating for this Treaty. It is deeply rewarding to see years of hard work bearing fruit.

This year is also the 75th anniversary of the first—and hopefully last—instance of nuclear war. WILPF commemorated the horrific US atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki with with its campaign “Four days of action against nuclear weapon spending” to protest nuclear spending as well as to mobilise for the total abolition of nuclear weapons. Part of the campaign included the release of two videos, one on 6 August, when the United States dropped its first bomb on Hiroshima, and the second on 9 August, to mark the Nagasaki anniversary. Members from around the world joined the campaign, crafted lanterns for peace and paper cranes, organised local actions, and shared graphics about nuclear spending on social media.

Over the course of this year, RCW has also been actively promoting the Treaty locally, including at events with students and activists. From 14-15 February, antinuclear activists, students, academics, artists, and others came together in Paris to learn from each other and to plot the way ahead for the abolition of nuclear weapons. RCW's director Ray Acheson spoke on a panel about challenging structural oppressions and systems of power alongside other activists working on human rights and climate change. In August, during the Canadian Network to Abolish Nuclear Weapons’ commemoration of the Hiroshima bombings, Acheson spoke about nuclearism as one of the structures of violence that must be abolished, and called on Canada to join the nuclear ban treaty as an action of feminist peace and Canada’s planned feminist foreign policy. RCW staff spoke at many other events on this topic throughout the year.

This year, our efforts were recognised by an international jury of activists and scientists that selected RCW’s director Ray Acheson as the laureate in the “solutions” category of the 2020 Nuclear Free Future Award. In this interview, Acheson outlines connections between abolishing nuclear weapons and other movements for feminist peace and racial justice. 

We also promoted nuclear disarmament through other avenues, including our series of “Critical NPT issues” webinars, organised jointly with the Arms Control Association. Webinars looked, for example, at the legal relationship between the TPNW and the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), the future of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and the NPT, or discussed nuclear weapon modernisation of the nine nuclear-armed states based on the 2020 edition of Assuring Destruction forever

Despite the postponement of the Tenth Review Conference of the NPT, RCW sought to maintain momentum through the above webinar series, but also by hosting virtual government briefings on issues related to the NPT, which we usually hold in-person at the margins of NPT conferences. As well, RCW coordinated and promoted a joint civil society statement, supported by over 80 organisations, to mark the 25th anniversary of the NPT’s indefinite extension.  
(Photo credit: ICAN | Aude Catimel)

Read more from Reaching Critical Will on advancing nuclear disarmament

WILPF’s abolition series and COVID-19 blogs: Laying the groundwork for a new world

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, WILPF mobilised its staff, members, and partners to develop a holistic analysis of the rapidly developing crisis. To this end, WILPF launched a blog series that critically examined the underlying causes and consequences of the crisis, promoting feminist and antimilitarist perspectives. Amongst others, RCW’s Ray Acheson warned against the risks of relying on surveillance technologies in the pandemic and called for disarmament and ceasefire; feminist academic Cynthia Enloe discussed the discourse of “waging war” against the virus; WILPF’s feminist political economy focal point Nela Porobić Isaković examined links between COVID-19 and neoliberalism; and Secretary-General Madeleine Rees showed how the virus has dramatically exposed the faults in our societal structures.

Since its founding in 1915, WILPF has challenged and spoken out against militarism. This is why WILPF has been calling through its blog series during the COVID-19 crisis for a fundamental reframing of security, one that dismantles the structures of capitalism, racism, militarism, and patriarchy which is essential for building an equitable future of well-being and care for all. 

The COVID-19 blog series inspired us to create a new long-read series on abolition, hosted on WILPF’s website, and authored by RCW’s Ray Acheson. The series of articles looks at the harms caused by border imperialism, police brutality, incarceration, weapons and war, and more. The articles demonstrate how each of these rely on and help sustain the interconnected systems of militarism, capitalism, racism, and patriarchy. Most of the articles focus on the United States because its role affects so many other countries, including through its wars, occupations, and military bases; the US training of soldiers, police, and border officials in other countries; and the export of US weapons and systems of militarism around the world.

If you’re looking for a good read over the holiday season, the abolition series will be available as an e-publication by the end of this year! If you prefer reading the old-school way, fear not. An expanded version of this series will be made into a book by Haymarket in the future, so watch this space!

Read more from Reaching Critical Will

Centering feminism in disarmament

In the past few years, there’s been a steep increase of awareness on the importance to meaningfully include gender considerations in disarmament. This is a great milestone and something that WILPF has worked for tirelessly for decades.

This year for instance, despite the challenging circumstances related to the COVID-19 pandemic, the First Committee adopted an unprecedented 18 resolutions including gender references, recognising the various close interlinkages between gender and disarmament. This is 25 per cent out of all 72 adopted resolutions and decisions in 2020. For comparison, in 2019 and 2018, 17 resolutions included gender references, respectively.

In late January, RCW launched the very first database on gender and disarmament. The database allows users to explore relevant resources based on their references to distinctive gender aspects in disarmament. It hosts a wide range of resources such as reports, articles, books and book chapters, policy documents, podcasts, legislation, and UN documents. Since its launch, we’ve been showcasing one resource as “recommendation of the month” in our monthly e-news. We hope you find the database useful in sorting through an ever increasing wealth of resources on the topic.

This year, RCW has been spearheading inclusion of gender perspectives in cyber peace. In April, WILPF and the Association for Progressive Communications co-authored a report looking at the gendered impact of cyber operations and gender inequality in cyber diplomacy. The report informed discussions about gender within the UN’s Open-ended Working Group on information and communications technology (ICT) by establishing an evidence base. Since its release, RCW’s programme manager has been promoting the report’s findings including at a first-ever session on gender at the annual cybersecurity conference of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), to the participants of a global “Women in Cyber” fellowship organised by the governments of Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom, among others, and most recently in a “fireside chat” as part of the Multi-stakeholder Cyber Dialogue series, where WILPF co-hosted a discussion on the gender dimensions of cyber peace. 

We also continued to highlight the importance of meaningful implementation of the gender and gender-based violence (GBV) decisions adopted at the Fifth Conference of States Parties (CSP5) to the Arms Trade Treaty. We participated in the first round of preparatory meetings in person in February, co-hosted or participated in side events on gender and the arms trade, and continued to provide in-depth views on the lack of gender perspectives in this year’s CSP documents, and offered recommendations for improvements throughout the year. For a thorough analysis and all summary reports, check out RCW’s ATT Monitors.
Outside of the CSP process, RCW’s director contributed a chapter to the recent special issue of the academic journal Global Responsibility to Protect, which focused on the ATT and its implementation where Ray Acheson provided analysis of gender-based violence and the arms trade. RCW’s programme manager provided an in-depth explanation of how to operationalise the ATT’s GBV provision as part of an annual ATT training course for diplomats organised by the Geneva Centre for Security Policy in May 2020, and also joined the panel of an interactive online event about gender responsive small arms control that  took place in June 2020, in connection with the postponed Seventh Bienniel Meeting of States to the UN programme of action on small arms and lights weapons.

This year, WILPF joined with several Canadian civil society organisations to generate dialogue about Canada’s forthcoming feminist foreign policy (FFP). A Twitter campaign drew Canadians into a discussion about what they view as important priorities for the future policy to address, and what needs to change from current practice. This informed and complemented other activities that Canadian civil society is doing to shape the policy. WILPF has also been working with other groups and the government directly to input into the development of an FFP, including through webinars and written submissions. WILPF also joined with several Canadian civil society organisations to coordinate two pan-Canadian Days of Action to protest Canadian arms transfers to Saudi Arabia. In remarks delivered during two online protests as well as in an op-ed, RCW’s programme manager emphasised significant human rights concerns and the contradictions with Canada’s feminist foreign policy. 

RCW also continued to highlight the importance of feminism in relation to autonomous weapon systems. In February, RCW staff and WILPF members participated in the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots Global Campaigners’ Meeting in Buenos Aires, Argentina. At the margins of the meeting, Sylvie Ndongmo of WILPF Cameroon participated in a press conference where she highlighted WILPF’s concerns that autonomous weapons could perpetuate GBV and are incompatible with feminist peace. This message was reinforced by Shirine Jurdi of WILPF Lebanon and Tica Font of WILPF Spain during a public event. WILPF also led a workshop on gender, feminism, and intersectionality in the process to ban killer robots which helped to set a foundation for the Campaign’s focus on these themes in 2020. Later in the year, RCW, with support of the Campaign, published two new publications on feminist perspectives on autonomous weapon systems, providing feminist analyses of particular problems posed by the development and potential use of autonomous weapon systems. Autonomous weapons and patriarchy unpacks the concepts of patriarchy and militarised masculinities and explains how these are relevant for an analysis of autonomous weapon systems, while Autonomous weapons and gender-based violence describes GBV and how it relates to the militarised masculinities and mission of the patriarchy.

While work on gender and disarmament is now firmly placed in mainstream discussions, there still is resistance in applying feminism as a way of thought and approach towards disarmament. While the importance of gender diverse participation, as well as gendered impacts of armed violence and weapons is becoming increasingly recognised, there is still much work to be done. Feminism is essential to question the very system that militarism and arms proliferation is based upon–and it helps us to envision alternative systems and structures based on peace, human security, equality, and justice. It is in this spirit that RCW will continue its work on feminism and disarmament in 2021.
(Photo credit: Wanda Muñoz)

Read more from Reaching Critical Will on promoting feminist perspectives in disarmament

Ensuring transparency and participation in multilateralism 

As WILPF documented in detail in the report “Locked out during lockdown: an analysis of the UN system during COVID-19,” since March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on the functioning of the United Nations (UN). UN Headquarters in New York City and the UN Office at Geneva both locked down for months, cancelling or postponing in-person meetings and trying, to various degrees of success, to move certain forums and functions online. 

The move to virtual formats has been challenging, as it has been for everyone shifting to remote work and learning. But the levels of transparency, accessibility, and functioning across multilateral forums has varied widely. The report provides an overview of the impact of the COVID-19-related changes in process and procedure at the United Nations, particularly in terms of transparency and accessibility to civil society. It finds that the ability of non-governmental stakeholders to access and participate meaningfully in many disarmament fora is increasingly uncertain, and provides a set of recommendations to preserve participation and transparency. 

We hope that the report will serve as a detailed record of an unprecedented challenge, piecing together scattered responses across the UN to this exceptional year, and that it will serve to ensure transparency and participation in extraordinary times–now and in the future.

Aside from the report, RCW has sought to keep meetings and decisions that did go ahead transparent and accessible to civil society colleagues. 

In our civil society coordination role for the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, we kept our colleagues updated about new developments of the postponement of the Tenth Review Conference. We coordinated the “virtual events calendar,” organised nine virtual government briefings with civil society, coordinated a joint civil society statement to NPT states parties, supported by over 80 organisations, and remained committed to keep momentum on the NPT despite its postponement through our joint webinar series “Critical NPT issues” with the Arms Control Association, mentioned elsewhere in this E-News.

The process for a political declaration on the use of explosive weapons (EWIPA), initiated late last year by the government of Ireland, also came to a stall in 2020 due to COVID-19. RCW was able to participate in the second in-person consultation in Geneva in February and published its recommendations for a political declaration in January, as well as its response to the draft elements in February 2020. The third in-person consultation for a political declaration, originally scheduled for late March, with the planned adoption of the declaration in May 2020 in Dublin, was postponed until further notice. Despite the postponement, Ireland sought to keep the process going and called for written submissions to the draft of the political declaration. WILPF submitted a response to the text in which it urges that the declaration commit states to ending the use of explosive weapons with wide area effects in populated areas. We also collected all other stakeholders’ written responses to the draft declaration on our website. On 7 September, the Permanent Mission of Ireland hosted a webinar highlighting the humanitarian harms caused by the use of EWIPA and actions to prevent suffering. RCW, as part of the International Network on Explosive Weapons (INEW), participated in the webinar, and we published a detailed report on our website in an effort to keep this issue high on the agenda. We remain committed to contributing to a declaration that will contribute to real change by stopping the bombing of towns and cities.

While the Sixth Conference of States Parties (CSP6) to the Arms Trade Treaty did go ahead, it was held in written format only. There were many issues with this meeting modality in terms of process, transparency, and civil society participation and access that we described in detail in this edition of the ATT Monitor. Despite the unusual format, we kept a record of all published documents, including statements, draft decisions, and other conference documents–and published the ATT Monitor as the only comprehensive source of analysis and reporting on the written statements provided as part of CSP6. As well, we amplified other civil society perspectives in the preview edition of the ATT Monitor to CSP6, including colleagues from Control Arms, the Stimson Center, SEHLAC Network, the Centre for Armed Violence Reduction, WILPF Cameroon, and Project Ploughshares. 

WILPF initiated and helped to shape a unique series of dialogue sessions between the governmental and non-governmental stakeholders that have been following the UN's Open-ended working group (OEWG) on developments in the field of information and telecommunications in the context of international security. Access and participation issues have dogged the OEWG even before the pandemic, as WILPF noted during a presentation to the OSCE in September 2020 about stakeholder engagement in UN cyber processes and elsewhere. The "Let's Talk Cyber" dialogue series was developed as a way to ensure non-governmental input into the on-going OEWG consultations. Non-governmental stakeholders worked in partnership with governments to organise one online discussion per OEWG agenda item in a format that allowed for real-time dialogue and discussion, as well as for others to view a livestream only.  WILPF co-hosted the session on "regular institutional dialogue" in which RCW's programme manager delivered kick-off remarks, and a side event on gendered approaches to international cyber security, moderated by RCW's programme manager. 

Throughout the year, we monitored and reported on many different UN meetings, and made summary reports of these meetings available on our website. See below “Meetings we monitored in 2020” for a full list. (Photo credit: Patrizia Scannella)

Read more from Reaching Critical Will

Bridging the gaps between human rights and disarmament

For many years, WILPF has been strengthening the linkages between the disarmament and human rights community. There is still a siloed approach to both issues, despite the fact that arms proliferation is so obviously tied to a plethora of human rights violations. Fortunately, human rights mechanisms are increasingly picking up on these connections. By exposing those links, and cross-referencing international mechanisms and processes on these topics, WILPF seeks to strengthen avenues for human rights protection and disarmament. 

RCW continued to work closely with WILPF’s human rights programme on a number of submissions to human rights mechanisms in 2020, where we shone a light on different aspects of the links between weapons, gender, and human rights. 

In early 2020, WILPF made three submissions to different human rights mechanisms that highlight our concerns over the devastating impacts of arms transfers on human rights. The first submission was made to the Working Group on Business and Human Rights for its project aimed at clarifying the practical steps that states and business enterprises should take to implement the Guiding Principles on business and human rights in conflict and post-conflict contexts. The submission highlighted the importance of addressing the arms industry and called for companies to exercise gender and conflict-sensitive human rights due diligence.

The second submission was made to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) for a report submitted to the 44th session of the Human Rights Council. It focuses on the impact of the diversion of arms and unregulated and illicit transfers on the human rights of women and girls. WILPF illustrated how both illicit and regulated arms transfers have devastating impacts on women and girls, and stressed that it’s essential to also look at the gendered impacts of weapons, including analyses of men and boys, and persons of diverse and marginalised sexual orientations, gender identities and expressions, and sex characteristics. The final report by OHCHR reflects many of the points made by WILPF. It considers the gendered impact of diverted and illicitly trafficked arms on the human rights of women and girls and calls for states to tackle these harms by addressing the “root causes of gender-based discrimination and violence.” The report is noteworthy as it is an important addition by the human rights community to the growing acknowledgement of the gender dimensions of armed violence and conflict.  WILPF published a blog, analysing key points of the report, and making recommendations for further research and action.

WILPF’s third submission on the topic was to the pre-session of the review of Canada by the Committee of the Rights of the Child (CRC). The report raises questions about the impact of Canadian weapons transfers on children's human rights, looking in particular at the cases of Saudi Arabia, and Yemen; Nigeria; and the Philippines, and draws attention to legal loopholes and transparency concerns concerning Canadian weapons manufacturers operating in other countries, and the United States-Canada trade relationship. Canada is scheduled to be reviewed by the CRC in September 2021 and we hope that the Committee will pick up on our points made to hold Canada accountable for its arms exports. 

This year, WILPF also highlighted human rights mechanisms’ outputs in the disarmament community. During the week of CSP6, WILPF, together with the Permanent Missions of Peru and Panama, along with the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) organised a virtual side event on the recent report of the OHCHR on arms transfers, diversion, and their gendered impacts, a recording is available on WILPF’s YouTube channel . The event raised awareness of the synergies between the work of the Human Rights Council, other human rights mechanisms, the OHCHR, and the arms control community. 

The Committee for the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW Committee) is crafting a general recommendation on trafficking in women and girls in the context of global migration. It put out a  call  for comments on its  first draft of the general recommendation. WILPF  provided comments and drafting recommendations  with regard to the root causes of trafficking, including neoliberalism and macro-economic reform policies; militarism, foreign military bases, and arms transfers; amongst others.

Notably, this year, the Human Rights Council adopted a new resolution on firearms and human rights, with a focus on children and youth. This is the seventh resolution by the HRC addressing the relationship between arms transfers, the availability of firearms, and human rights violations, and is an important tool to continue building synergies in the future.


Banning nuclear weapons

Ending the use of explosive weapons in populated areas

Feminism and disarmament

Challenging the arms trade

Preventing killer robots

Promoting cyber peace


UN General Assembly First Committee

UN General Assembly General Debate

International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons

International Day against Nuclear Tests

Open-ended working group (OEWG) on developments in the field of information and telecommunications 

Ireland’s webinar: Protection of civilians in urban warfare – explosive weapons in populated areas (EWIPA): Issues, policy and practice

Group of Governmental Experts on Lethal Autonomous Weapon Systems

Arms Trade Treaty Sixth Conference of States Parties (CSP6)

UN Security Council Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict open debate

Consultations for a political declaration on the use of explosive weapons in populated areas (EWIPA)

Germany’s webinar on autonomous weapon systems: 2020. Capturing technology, rethinking arms control

Arms Trade Treaty CSP6 preparatory process


13 October 2020, Civil society statement on gender to the 2020 First Committee

13 October 2020, Civil society statement on cyber and human security to the 2020 First Committee

11 May 2020, Joint statement from civil society to NPT states parties

17 August 2020, WILPF statements to the Seventh Conference of States Parties to the Arms Trade Treaty (general statement, treaty implementation, transparency and reporting)

28 May 2020, WILPF statement to the second informal preparatory committee for the Sixth Conference of States Parties (CSP6) to the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT)

12 February 2020, WILPF statement to the second session of the UN Open-ended working group on developments in the field of information and telecommunications in the context of international security

10 February 2020, WILPF statements for the process for a political declaration on the use of explosive weapons in populated areas (EWIPA) (on section 1 of the draft elements for a political declaration; on section 2, on sections 3 and 4)